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Report: Cambodia De-mined for Rich

July 9, 1999

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ Cambodia’s scandal-plagued mine-clearing agency spent over $1 million earmarked to de-mine land for the poor on clearing land belonging to government officials and a former Khmer Rouge guerrilla charged with murder, according to an internal audit by the agency.

Born out of mine-clearance efforts by the United Nations in the early 1990s, the government-run Cambodian Mine Action Center receives $12 million annually from foreign donors to carry out its mandate of clearing former battlefields for Cambodia’s landless poor.

The Cambodia Daily newspaper reported today, however, that the audit covering southwest Cambodia found that the center cleared land for wealthy businessmen, local government officials and army generals.

``What we’re facing is a serious situation that has to be looked at in detail,″ said Richard Warren, the United Nations’ chief adviser to the Cambodian Mine Action Center. ``It’s going to take some time to get to the bottom of what happened.″

He declined today to discuss the exact figures in the audit, which he described as a preliminary report, but confirmed it suggested substantial problems.

According to The Cambodia Daily, the audit revealed that $500,000 was spent to clear a plantation run by former Khmer Rouge commander Chhouk Rin.

Chhouk Rin, now a colonel in the Cambodian army, has been charged with being an accomplice in the Khmer Rouge’s abduction and murder of three young backpackers from Australia, Britain and France in 1994. All three countries have been providing assistance for the de-mining center.

Despite the seriousness of the charge against Chhouk Rin, an arrest warrant has not been ordered by the court.

The audit revealed that another $710,000 was spent to clear several parcels of land in the southwest now controlled by local government officials, the military and a man described by local villagers as ``close″ to Chhouk Rin, The Cambodia Daily reported.

CMAC Director General Sam Sotha could not be reached for comment today, but he was quoted in The Cambodia Daily as saying he was unsure of the accuracy of the audit.

``We have to ensure that the quality of the report is correct because international staff was talking to staff, and I want to know if there are communication problems,″ Sam Sotha reportedly said.

The center came under fire recently with the discovery that $90,000 in funds was fraudulently disbursed in a scam involving de-miners who signed false pay slips.

Admitting that graft appeared to be widespread, center officials ordered a series of internal audits.

The center estimated in 1993 that Cambodia had 10 million mines buried within its borders. After five years of intensive de-mining, that estimate has dropped to 4 million to 6 million.

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